Chasing mirage of peace
A conditional ceasefire may not yield the desired results in J&K. More the pot boils in Kashmir, the better they feel in ISI headquarters
During an NDA Passing Out ceremony, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw had once stated to Gentleman Cadets, "Remember: in war, there is no place for a defeated soldier. You either win or you die." However, it seems that in J&K, some don't want the terror syndicates to either be completely exterminated or killed to the last man. For some time now, Chief Minister of J&K has been giving sound bites in favour of a unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir, during the holy month of Ramzan. A back of the hand calculation would make it evident that her appeal has less to do with bringing peace and tranquillity in J&K and more to do with her efforts to secure her constituency; a section of which, with a separatist mindset, may be upset due to the clinical precision with which security forces have undertaken anti-terror operations leading to the elimination of more than 200 hardened terrorists in the last one and half years.
Such has been the cutting-edge efficiency with which the Indian security forces have conducted operations that it became a norm for commanders of LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen to be liquidated within days or even hours after being elevated to that post. The clear-cut demarcation of work and refinement of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) made sure that while the Indian Army units engaged the terrorists, CRPF kept the stone pelters at bay, who had often in the past tried to divert the attention of soldiers, to help cornered terrorists sneak away. Anti-terror operations were going well and then started the clamour for a unilateral ceasefire, an expected move by Mehbooba Mufti after giving amnesty to thousands of rabid stone-pelters who continued with the same activity after being released.
Short of declaring a unilateral ceasefire, the Union Home Minister's Office, perhaps out of coalition compulsions, tweeted the following, "The Centre asks Security Forces not to launch operations in Jammu & Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan. Decision taken to help the peace-loving Muslims observe Ramzan in a peaceful environment."
A part of the Centre's ploy is perhaps to win the 'hearts and minds' of people, a critical aspect of having absolute victory in an asymmetric warfare theatre. However, whether it would actually result in peace is a matter of debate. Global historical precedence does not suggest that radicalised terror groups have ever stopped killing people or targeting armed forces during any holy month. In the case of Kashmir, the possibility of a rise in terror activities, during this phase, becomes more profound since most major terror groups operating in J&K, including their commanders and handlers, take instructions from Pakistan with utter disregard to sentiments of natives who they consider nothing more than dispensable pawns. Thus, more the pot boils in Kashmir, the better they feel in the ISI headquarters. Reciprocating to any peace overtures with a similar gesture is out of the question for terror groups who may rather prefer to use this phase of a relative lull to recuperate and strike back.
However, military interpretation and implementation on grounds of the political decisions taken in national capitals are, often different from what civilians and analysts perceive. While the Army has agreed to hold back temporarily proactive operations based on the 'cordon, search, seek, and destroy' model, what would certainly not stop are the specific intelligence-based operations as also the active and pre-emptive operations along the Line of Control aimed at an aggressive area dominance. Interestingly, most of the major terrorists who have been eliminated lately were decimated through intelligence-based operations. Thus, chances of terrorists getting neutralised remain profound over the next one month too, even though the possibility of terror groups taking advantage of curtailment in the cordon and search operations to regroup and strike remain high as well.
Likewise, security forces also reserve the right to retaliate in case their convoys or personnel come under attack. In that case, probably nothing would stop them from going ahead with cordon and search operations in the vicinity. Besides, there is always one grey area in counter-insurgency operations. Security Forces can always go in for a specific search and destroy operation, and then claim that the first bullets were fired from the other side and that security personnel only retaliated in self-defence. This is an accepted norm worldwide when the fight is against rabid terror elements.
However, the issue of why the attempts of a unilateral and conditional ceasefire, during a specific religious phase, are being made remains unanswered. This answer is important since it has, time and again, been preached that terror has no religion. Nevertheless, the next one month would keep many on tenterhooks. The security forces surely know well that terrorists may take their advantage of the situation and, thus, the coming few weeks may not be peaceful. In case the terror groups end up orchestrating any major terror attack during this phase, it would be interesting to see how BJP, with a hardline nationalist party image, would manage the political backlash and accusations of towing to the whims of Mehbooba Mufti.
Lastly, the most important thing that should be kept in mind is that not a single soldier should end up being an avoidable victim of a decision, which, in spite of having some merits on paper, may not yield much in reality. Non Initiation of Combat Operation as a policy can never be a prelude to peace when the adversaries are controlled externally, radicalised, and hardened terrorists along with their overground cohorts.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)